Complexity by M Mitchell Waldrop is one of those weird books where I finish reading it and think "ahh, that was a good yarn, it's totally not useful" and then proceed to have my entire worldview changed in the subsequent months. Just. What.
Complexity is a truly weird book. The story the book tells is compelling — or as compelling as a story about any scientific movement can be — and the author, one M. Mitchell Waldrop, is known for historically important books. Even the concept of a complex adaptive system is easy to grok. But the second and third order implications of the idea are pernicious as hell; it has affected the way I see everything around me.
This is perhaps made more remarkable by the fact that Complexity is a non-fiction narrative book. I expect non-fiction idea books to change my worldview — after all, you expect a book to make its argument clearly so that you may grapple with it, and through the grappling you may find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with the arguments and change your mind. It’s rather rarer that a story gets inside my head and violently rearranges my mental furniture for me.
I want to talk a little about these ideas, so that I may perhaps convince you to pick up the book and give it a go. But the thrust of this piece is simply that the concept of a complex adaptive system is a hell of an idea virus, and I’m still trying to work out the implications on my worldview; the Waldrop book just happens to be a delightfully written 477 page infectious vector. I think it’s very good.